Rep. John R. Lewis, the civil rights icon whose fight for racial justice began in the Jim Crow south and ended in the halls of Congress, died Friday night. John Lewis represented Georgia's 5th congressional district. He had been suffering from Stage IV pancreatic cancer since December. He was 80 old.
John R. Lewis died the same day as Rev. Cordy Tindell "C.T." Vivian, another leader in the civil rights movement. C.T. Vivian died at age 95 of natural causes. He, alongside Martin Luther King, jr, John Lewis, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was also instrumental the struggle for racial equality and, like John Lewis, he was also part of the Freedom Riders.
John R. Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, in Troy, Alabama, one of the ten children of Willie Mae and Eddie Lewis, sharecroppers[ in rural Pike County, Alabama.
He started his fight for Civil Rights and racial justice in the Jim Crow South at an early age and continued in the halls of the US Congress. For the first time, John Lewis met Rosa Parks when he was 17, and Martin Luther King, Jr when he was 18.
John Lewis continued his activism as a student, highly dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement. As a member of the Nashville Student Movement, he organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville and took part in many other civil rights activities, including organizing bus boycotts, in the fight for voter and racial equality..
For challenging Jim Crow laws by his early 20s, John Lewis was arrested, jailed and beaten , hence become a national figure.
In 1961, John Lewis was the youngest of the Big Six civil rights leaders, as one of the 13 original Freedom Riders, that included seven whites and six blacks who were determined to ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans. The Freedom Ride, originated by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and revived by James Farmer and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was initiated to pressure the federal government to enforce the Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960).
John Lewis remained the last surviving member of the Big Six, which included Martin Luther King Jr, A. Phillip Randolph, James Farmer, Roy Wilkins, and Whitney Young.
At 23, he helped organize the March on Washington. There, he provided a keynote speech at the landmark event for civil rights. In the speech he said: "As it stands now, the voting section of this bill will not help the thousands of black people who want to vote. It will not help the citizens of Mississippi, of Alabama and Georgia who are qualified to vote but lack a sixth-grade education. One man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours, too. It must be ours."
In act that led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act, he helped organize the voting-rights march in Alabama, known as "Bloody Sunday," during which state troopers attacked demonstrators with tear gas and billie clubs, and Jon Lewis' skull was fractured in the demonstration.
In the US Congress, John Lewis led major Civil Rights initiatives. The Votings Rights bill he long championed passed in December 2019
President Obama honored John Lewis with the Metal of Freedom in 2011.
Obama wrote in a tribute statement posted to Medium: "He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise ... And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.""
John Lewis graduated from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville and received a bachelor's degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University.
He was married to Lillian Lewis, who died in 2012, a age 73.